I had planned to start writing this book in the summer of 2003 but, in my enthusiasm for the project, I started the preceding Christmas and had virtually finished it by the summer. I was helped by being a naturally early riser, as most of the hours were put in before the rest of my family were awake each day. At the start of this preface, I should make it clear why I am so interested in risk communication in relation to health. In my view, risk touches on virtually every aspect of our health and lives, and the need for effective communication is paramount. I very much hope that if you have not appreciated this already, by the end of this book, you will.
I first became interested in risk and health communication, particularly in relation to medicine taking, in the mid- to late 1990s. I had been invited to take part in an EC-funded research project which involved developing an intelligent computer system for drug prescription. My group's role in the project was to advise on the content of, and to evaluate, the written explanations that would be generated by the system. We started with two simple questions: what do people want to know about their medicines, and what should they be told? As experimental psychologists we naturally took a very empirical approach to answering the questions and, from the first experiment on, I was hooked. This book attempts to answer these questions, as well as a number of broader questions relating to the communication of risk information in health.
I decided to write this book as a result of my general dissatisfaction with most existing texts in the area. Although several contained one or two chapters of interest, none seemed to cover the particular issues that interested me most, in a single volume. I therefore set out to do this, and the present book is the result. I hope that it will be of interest to fellow researchers, practitioners and students, who want to know more about the communication of risk information in health.